Third UTNE Reader Summary : LUSENET : M.Ed./International Falls : One Thread

UTNE READER SUMMARY November-December 1998


The Care and Feeding of Stuff (When little things mean a lot); Cathy Madison pgs. 60-61

The Care and Feeding of Stuff takes a unique look at the way people become emotionally attached to material items. No matter how little or insignificant any particular item may seem, it can be of great importance to someone else.

I believe it is safe to say that everyone has some thing that they consider to be special and worth keeping. The author talks about her move from Texas to Germany and the system her family chose for dividing what to take with. First were the essentials that would go with immediately, extras that would arrive in 3 to 6 months, and unimportant things that would remain in storage and be left behind. How does a family decide what is a necessity? Can they live without the third television set, or do should they leave behind the extra mattress and towel sets? The amount of importance placed on things or stuff can vary from one family member to the next. I know what I think is important is very different than what my children or husband would deem necessities!

I feel that we all need to step ourselves back a little, myself included, and assess the importance of material things in our lives. What do I really need? "Things" is Americanism, or should I say materialism, at it's worst. The Mall of America, department stores, and the local strip malls across our nation speak directly to the economic demand driven by American consumers.

On the other end of this consumerism is the value system and message we send to our children. In a society that measures individual worth on the amount of material "things" we acquire, it is only rational to expect our children to continue to want more. The problem perpetuates itself when socio-economic stratification dictates who obtains and who does not. It is reality that children will kill for brand-named tennis shoes, or commit crimes to obtain what they cannot afford. This is a fact that our nation needs to address. Why do these crimes take place? We will never know the answer for sure, but many believe it is the importance our culture continues to place on material items. On a more optimistic note, some parents are instilling a value system that addresses the family as the centering force of happiness and not on material things. "Stuff can strangle. But life can be happy and simple and full without it." (60)

The author feels that even though she has learned to go without her stuff, she will always want more stuff. I don't feel she is any different than most of us. We all want stuff, items that we buy or want, but don't necessarily need. I look in my closets at home and agonize at the amount of money spent on clothes never worn. I know what things I'll try to save if I were ever faced with the tragedy of a house fire and it isn't my clothes!

My stuff, things that I have collected and continue to treasure, has tremendous emotional meaning to me. Pictures, doilies, dishes, and blankets are symbols of who I am and where I come from. The old chair in the corner at my home may look ready for the auction block to some, but when I sit in it and rock I can feel my grandmother's arms and hear her soothing voice. To me, the difference between things and stuff is in the meaning. A house full of "stuff" is full of memories and happiness. A house full of things is only decoration.

-- Anonymous, April 19, 1999


Tina, I had the opportunity to read your utne article response. I thought it was very interesting. However, I don't think material stuff is bad, I believe that people are responsible for their bad actions. They lack the moral character and value system that society would deem as normal. Material stuff is fun and enjoyable and with the right value system in place what could be better.

-- Anonymous, April 20, 1999

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